Watchdog criticised for asking pupils 'intrusive' questions

16th May 2008 at 01:00
A major ofsted survey asking more than 110,000 pupils about their home lives has been criticised for using inappropriate questions
A major ofsted survey asking more than 110,000 pupils about their home lives has been criticised for using inappropriate questions.

One in four local authorities has told the watchdog that they felt the questionnaire, TellUs2, which asked children whether they took drugs and if their parents had jobs, was "inadequate".

Almost a third of councils, responding to questions by Ofsted, said the burden of conducting the survey had outweighed its benefits. "Major concerns" were also raised about the short notice given to carry out the questionnaire, problems caused by its website, and the lack of involvement of other stakeholders.

As revealed in The TES, the questionnaire, which was completed by children aged between 10 and 15, was boycotted by a number of schools over concerns that it was too intrusive.

Pupils were asked to give their full postcodes and asked personal questions about their home lives. Crucially, schools were not obliged to receive parental permission.

Pupils were also asked questions directly related to their education, including attitudes towards teachers, and how often they were the victims of bullying.

The survey, which will be repeated annually, is supposed to make local authorities better informed about what is happening in pupils' lives so they can target resources more effectively.

Councils told Ofsted that they could see the value in gathering national comparisons, when they were asked for their opinions on the annual performance assessment process.

Findings from TellUs2 included almost 20 per cent of children reporting being drunk at least once in the previous four weeks, and 15 per cent of 12- to 15-year-olds saying they had taken illegal drugs. Three in 10 said they had been bullied "a couple of times" in the previous four weeks.

But seven councils out of 60 that gave feedback to Ofsted told the inspectorate that a poor response to the pupil survey meant it was not sufficiently representative.

Ofsted has said that, following previous criticisms about some of the questions, it will wipe all the information it gathered about pupils' family life and not ask those questions in future.

Annual performance assessment 2007: the councils' responses www.ofsted.gov.uk.

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